I don’t recall the very first time that I saw a Patek Philippe reference 3970, but I do recall just one of the very first, and it left quite an impression. It was 2014, and I’d just been promoted from Cataloger into Associate Specialist at Sotheby’s. There was a customer that I had worked with previously that had consigned some smaller pieces. He was always warm and friendly, and he reached out to me one day to say he was prepared to consign his 3970E in yellow gold. I nervously searched for comps and created an estimate: $60,000-$80,000 with the book at the low quote. The auction soon approached , much to my dismay, there was little interest from the opinion. I frantically called the consignor the evening prior to the auction and reduced the book to make sure more bidding activity — needless to say he wasn’t happy, and I got an earful (such is life with an auction house, mind you). The watch ended up selling for $68,000 all-in, and also to say the consignor — and myself were frustrated would be an understatement. For this very day, I consider this story whenever I hear of a 3970. It hasn’t curbed my love of the watch, but I have always wondered: What’s up with the 3970, and why does one appear to care about it?
As an example, the attraction has always been there. It’s considered one of the last fantastic layouts from Patek Philippe nautilus exact test replica watches and is a rather complicated bit. The aesthetics are there, the size is there, the movement is there — it’s all of the makings of a collector’s watch, but for some reason the results are always a little soft, a little lackluster. So I put out to actually break down this watch and to find out what it’s all about. Let us dig in.
What Is The Reference 3970?
The reference 3970 was born in 1986 (a good birth year, if I may say so myself). One must recall the 1980s were a weird time for mechanical watches. Quartz moves were shaking things up and people just didn’t care about complex watches. In reality, even chronographs were not common. When the 3970 perpetual calendar chronograph dropped in 1986, it was not easy for retailers to proceed. Based on John Reardon, Head of Watches in Christie’s and an authority on all things Patek Philippe (he literally wrote the books, plural), retailers didn’t even want to shoot them from Patek as they were too hard to market. But before we get into the popularity and price of those watches, you want to know what the 3970 actually is, in all its various incarnations.
The 3970 is a perpetual calendar chronograph, and the successor to the iconic 2499, which was in production from 1951 until 1986. Before that, the mention 1518 inhabited the heralded”perpetual calendar chrono” title for Patek. In reality, the 1518 has been the first serially produced perpetual calendar chronograph overall (you can read more about it here) and it is a genuine icon of 20th-century watchmaking.
The 3970 was created in yellow, white, and rose gold, in addition to platinum. The case itself measures 36mm, which can be 1.5mm smaller compared to that of the 2499. Downsizing was an intriguing move on Patek’s part. It sports a traditional dial screen with three subsidiary dials: leap year signal and chronograph 30 minute totalizer (at three o’clock), moonphase and date (six o’clock), along with chronograph 12 hour totalizer and operating seconds (nine o’clock). There are twin apertures for the day of this week and the month at 12 o’clock, and conventional round chronograph pushers flanking the crown. Overall, it’s quite Patek Philippe geneve exact replica watches, also represents a transitional period for the brand as a modern piece published after post-vintage age greats such as the 1518 along with the 2499, each of which have reached grail status. It is worth noting that the 2499/100 was in production well into the 1980s, therefore the 3970 was a nice, close follow up to that reference.
At the middle of this 3970 is its own motion — the caliber CH 27-70 Q. This quality was the first non-Valjoux-based motion Patek ever used in a chronograph. On the contrary, it was predicated on the Lemania 2310, that was also the foundation of the beloved caliber 321 movement used in early Omega Speedmasters. This manual-winding motion has a 60-hour power reserve, and was also used at the subsequent 5970 and 5004 (with added rattrapante purpose ). It is a beautiful and reliable movement which remained in use for the whole lineage of this 3970 and continues to be used today in some very unique pieces like Vacheron’s Cornes de Vache. The finishing with this caliber is excellent — all hand-done, needless to say. The CH 27-70 Q was one of the finest movements on the planet in the time of production, and represents a very Genevan means of doing things.
There was another mention born alongside the 3970 in 1986 — the 3971. This reference has been just the same as the first series 3970 with feuille palms, stick indicators, and otherwise colored sub-dials, however this benchmark comes with a snap-on sapphire crystal back. This watch was created together with the first and second series, but was stopped after. There are less than 300 reference 3971s ever produced, making this type of super-rare reference to find. And with that snap-on sapphire crystal caseback, can you blame anyone for wanting this one?
The second series was produced from 1986 to 1991 and was produced in yellow, rose, and white gold, with some made in platinum too. Technically, it is called the 3970E (E = étanche( aka watertight ) due to the solid screw-down caseback. Around 650 (3970 and 3971) were made in total, together with white gold being the lightest (there just six examples understood today). The watch itself is distinguished in the first series by two things: the sub-dials are the exact same colour as the dialup, and the caseback is a solid screw-down edition. There was the option for clients to order an extra sapphire screw-down caseback, but this is rare. The feuille hands along with the rod indexes stay the same, also it should be mentioned that the instances were hand-finished up till 1990, making the first and second show more desirable to collect, and from a lot.
The third series 3970 is when things began to transition to slightly more numerous manufacturing. It was made from 1989 to around 1995 in all four alloys, with approximately 1,350 total pieces made. The significant differences are that the watch came with both strong and sapphire crystal screw-back instances, pointed baton indicators, and baton hands rather than the foliage hands. Additionally, the dial is bright silver along with the printing is thicker, which makes it a more vibrant piece. As this is the most common 3970, it is often the cheapest, with all the fourth series running .
Fourth Series (1995-2004)
The fourth and last series was produced from approximately 1994 to 2004 and has been exactly the same as the next series but with a new serial number range, and came with a deployant clasp. About 2,000 bits were made and in all four alloys. It was the last run and will be the very least collectible.
The 3970 was in production for over 20 decades and remained among the more sought after complex references by the end of its life cycle. The mention was disrupted by the 5020, which introduced the QP chronograph complication at a cushion-form situation (not my fave, nor was it anyone else’s). The 3970 was ultimately followed by the 5970 at 2004 and then the 5270 at 2011. The 5970, obviously, uses the specific same caliber as the 3970, but its own updated case dimensions and clean dial, coupled with restricted production, make it a far more desirable watch for the majority of collectors.
But Can Be Your 3970 Collectible?
Okay, when I set out to write this article, I had been convinced that I’d encounter some insane finding this view is the second watch to accumulate. But after spending a lot of time with it, I understood the beauty of this watch isn’t that it has any kind of superstar status. Quite the contrary, actually. While the costs for your average 3970 vary from approximately $70,000-$200,000 based on metal and series, the exceptional pieces are still the very collectible. Below are some of the highlights.
The thing to remember about classic watches is any time you have a distinctive dial or setup, it’s going to be much valuable (yes, obvious statement, however, it had to be mentioned ). This is not any different for the 3970, which can be found in many distinct variations. Among the more recent ones to think of auction is this platinum 3970 with black dial and Breguet numerals (say what?) . This view is”possibly unique” (are not they all) and also boasts a tachymeter scale . This view is projected to sell for CHF 200,000-400,000 and is coming up for auction in Phillips later this season, so stay tuned for an update on that.
Like the aforementioned watch is Eric Clapton’s 3970 in white gold with a salmon dial, Breguet numerals, along with a tachymeter scale. Obviously, this opinion is important for a couple reasons: it is Clapton’s; also it’s a exceptional salmon dial with Breguet numerals. The most interesting thing about this view is that it out-performed Clapton’s 5004 that sold at the same precise sale by $50,000, together with the 3970 selling for $459,000 along with the 5004 selling for $405,000. You may read more about this watch here.
Also sold openly was the very first Patek Philippe 3970 ever created, which earned over CHF 200,000 at Antiquorum in 2015. Obviously, this was a fairly good deal for such a novelty, but since it’s a yellow gold initial show, the cost is poorer than, say, the special dial 3970 in silver arriving at Phillips. It is clear that unusual dials trump something like the very first serial number, but it’s still not that powerful. I will say that while special dials are the most desired, there is a certain inherent coolness and desirability in rare manufacturing 3970s. Special dials were commissioned by large shots for the sake of being special. An early 3970 with snap back is a remarkably rare and distinctive watch, and only 100 were made. It also feels genuinely vintage and is not that expensive for what it is, relatively speaking. Then you’ve got a white metal second series watch — try to find one. Seriously.
A distinctive second show 3970EP.
This watch above is another series platinum 3970 — among the fewer than 10 known. And it was made in 1990, using a white moon, white hands, and the calendar . That’s a cool view, and it’s about as close to a platinum 2499 as you are going to discover south of several millions of dollars. There are several other variations of this 3970 that are more collectible than others: People with Arabic numeral dials, a la the 5004, and those pairing white metallic cases with black, stick dials (rather than diamond markers, which was the standard for black dial watches), will draw demand. As for your run-of-the-millsilver dial 3970 by a later series? I am unsure how bright that future is, fiscally speaking.
So is your 3970 collectible? For me personally, I think that it is, but in another manner than how you could expect. It isn’t a 1518, in which you spend over $350,000 for yellow golden illustration (the least uncommon ), and it’s not a 5004 that goes for more than $325,00 that you are able to put off for special occasions. Instead, it is a tasteful complex Patek Philippe 5170j-001 exact fake watch perpetual calendar chronograph that nonetheless provides you the feeling that you are wearing something really unique (since you are) without needing to shell out well over six figures (still an extremely rare thing for the 1% to do, let alone the rest of humankind ). The 3970 is a good watch, possibly even a great one. And if Patek had restricted its production a bit more, it might even be a grail. But that is not what occurred, and prices for most yellow or rose gold watches nevertheless sit under $100,000.
And that’s okay! The 3970 still manages to hit all of the right notes: It’s an old school Swiss-made watch having an ébauche movement at half the price of its contemporary counterpart, the 5270. It has also held its value through the years. According to Wempe New York, they sold a 3970R in 2002 for $76,200 plus a 3970P for $87,900 — to place things in perspective, that a 3970P now sells for just over $110,000,so they’ve gone up slightly in cost. The 3970R still sells for about exactly what it did in the retail. And this really is a fourth set; the first and second show go for slightly more, a 3970P from 1991 sold for just over $125,000 at Phillips during the Paul Newman Daytona sale.
Overall, the 3970 is a wonderful piece of machinery that both looks great on the wrist and operates well at 36mm. It represents a transitional period where the Patek Philippe women’s exact clone of the 1980s became the Patek Philippe we know today. The value has stayed on the same, and this is actually quite rare for any watch, though folks love to tell tales of just how much they have made in watch collecting. I think one thing to notice is that watches produced from the’90s are now 30 years old (frightening, I understand ), and if you examine what’s going on with other’90s watches, and other collectibles from this period (cars, artwork, furniture), an individual wouldn’t be mad to expect an upswing.
I’m not saying you ought to run out and purchase all of the watches from the 1990s, however it is something to think about in regards to the 3970. If a complicated Patek is the pursuit, and you’re looking for a smaller size than what’s seen in the 5970 or 5270, it may be time for you to have a closer look. Regardless of what, the 3970 will always have its fans and its detractors, and that’s fine. But I would not be so quick to miss a good 3970 if you’re in the market for your first (or last) large watch. Wear a 3970P beside some 6239 Paul Newman and see which hits you harder. My guess is you’ll be surprised by the answer.